The White House named Hopewell Elementary School’s Helen Corveleyn as a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).
PAEMST are the nation’s highest honors for teachers of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science.
“It truly is an enormous honor to be recognized in this way. There are tons of amazing educator’ that I work with everyday that are also deserving of it and education is a teamwork kind of profession,” Corveleyn said. “What is really special about this award to me specifically is that it honors just a love of teaching science.”
Corveleyn is a STEM facilitator with 13 years’ teaching experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) at Hopewell Elementary School (HES) in Hopewell.
Before HES, she taught at Montgomery Middle School in Skillman as a seventh grade Life Sciences teacher.
The PAEMST has been awarded to two people in the state: Bruce Williams of Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School of the Arts in Trenton received the award for mathematics and Corveleyn received it for science.
“I have dedicated my life to making sure that kids really love and grow up to see the value in science and see how it fits into our society,” she said. “To be kind of congratulated for doing this is just a real validation of my career.”
The process was long to end up as one of the recipients selected.
“I was nominated I think back in August or September of 2021. Then, because of the hybrid and virtual situation we had going, the application process was extremely rigorous,” Corveleyn said. “You have to record a lesson to be sent in of continuous teaching for 30 minutes, so for my lesson I chose to do an outdoor lesson. That required a lot of help from my fellow teachers and this is where the teammates come in, my principal David Friedrich and a whole group of people worked on sound to be able to have it outdoors.”
She added that as the pandemic progressed she wanted to show to the committee the value of outdoor learning and show that science needs to be done outside.
The focus of the 30-minute lesson was on ecosystem balance.
“We are very blessed on HES property to have a park that abuts our property. I am able to frequently take the kids out to really kind of get into the ecosystem,” Corveleyn said. “So they were looking for invasive species and evidence of native and non-native plants and also the health of the stream that is around there.”
The students were investigating that delicate balance and they would run in some of the human impact they have on the environment and how children are able to get evidence scientifically and gather data out in the field to apply it back in the classroom.
The recorded lesson was a significant part of the application, along with recommendations from areas of Corveleyn’s life in her teaching career.
“I waited a long time and then was contacted as a state finalist and knew I made the cut in that way and then I was able to create an addendum to my application before it went to the National Science Foundation and then the White House,” she said. “I was contacted back in July that they wanted to do an FBI background check on me, which was an indicator that this might be in the works. Having this come a couple days ago was a big surprise.”
As a Governor’s Educator of the Year award recipient in 2019, New Jersey County Teacher of the Year in 2020, and “I Can STEM NJ Role Model” for the New Jersey STEM Pathways Network in 2021, Corveleyn is dedicated to promoting elementary STEM education, according to information provided by PAEMST.
“It is funny, I have always been an environmentalist and conservationist. That has always been engrained and weaved into the core of who I am and that still remains today,” she said. “Conservation is still my main reason for teaching children, but as my career has progressed I came to embrace all aspects of STEM. The fact I am a STEM facilitator for kindergarten through fifth grade children, that STEM background kind of stands for everything that is out there in the world that we need to embrace and children need to grow up in.”
Corveleyn stressed that children need to be exposed to engineering so they can learn to problem-solve; they need to have a basis in technology because that is where the future is; they need to have a deep understanding of scientific concepts to allow them to see what is happening in the world and navigate the world; and if they don’t have the background in math then they don’t have the language to speak to the other three subject areas.
“In my curriculum and my teaching, I want all kids to be able to feel like they are good at STEM,” she said.
Her passion is inspiring young people to become planetary stewards who communicate scientific ideas and promote innovation in science and sustainability, according to a PAEMST statement.
“I would say STEM is the most important piece of their education. It is the most important piece because number one it is exciting, it’s relatable, and any kid is able to talk about something science, technology and engineering,” Corveleyn said. “Number three as to why I think it is the most important is because it is what we are going to need in order to navigate and survive our future. They definitely need to be able to read and write, and I don’t downplay that.”
Corveleyn serves as director of Gardens at HES, including outdoor soil and indoor hydroponic gardens to support the award-winning “Best in New Jersey 2018” Farm-to-School Program.
Her teaching style to students is to provide authentic experiences for them through their science, Social Studies, and reading and writing curriculum.
“I am able to connect what they are learning to real-life STEM situations. That might be bringing in a scientist from the outside who is an expert on something they are learning,” she said. “It could be designing and engineering a situation for them to puzzle through and build or create a solution to a problem. It could also be taking them out into the field and have them apply what they are learning in the classroom in an outdoor setting or using STEM in Art or have it weaved into Social Studies.”
Corveleyn runs the Nature Harmony Project which infuses STEM and the arts with social-emotional learning in an outdoor education setting.
She also created the HES Green Team and is a member of the Hopewell District Green Team which conceived a town-wide earth week to promote environmental justice issues.
Corveleyn is a Board Trustee of both the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and the Hunterdon Somerset Mercer County STEM Ecosystem.
She teaches graduate students at The College of New Jersey in Environmental Leadership and Conservation Biology at Miami University of Ohio.
Her international field work with Project Dragonfly includes studying island biogeography and whale sharks in Baja, Mexico; orangutans and sustainable palm oil in Borneo, Malaysia; and creating a multimedia-based conservation campaign to support the Belize Zoo and Maya Forest Corridor, according to a PAEMST statement.
Corveleyn is certified in kindergarten through eighth grade elementary education. She has an M.A.T., summa cum laude, in conservation biology from Miami University of Ohio and a B.S. in environmental policy from Marist College.
With this award, teachers will receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation; a certificate signed by the president; a future trip to Washington, D.C., to celebrate their accomplishments; and join a prestigious cadre of more than 5,100 teacher-alumni from across the nation.
Corveleyn does not yet have an idea on how she will utilize the $10,000.
“I do not know if that will just kind of go into savings for when I eventually get my Ph.D. I’m not quite sure what the $10,000 will be designated for so we will have to see,” she said. “It’s still a shock that it is going to be there. I am also still keeping my fingers crossed that I will still be able to go to the White House with everything that is going with COVID-19.”
For more information, visit paemst.org.